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Former Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada Soccer coach to be sentenced Wednesday

Former Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada Soccer coach to be sentenced Wednesday

Former Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada Soccer coach to be sentenced Wednesday

The sentencing hearing for former Canada Soccer and Vancouver Whitecaps women’s coach Bob Birarda began Wednesday in provincial court in North Vancouver, BC, with Crown asking for jail time of two years less a day plus three years probation.

In February, Birarda pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and one count of touching a young person for a sexual purpose. The charges stem from the complaints of four women he used to coach and relate to incidents spanning from 1988 to 2006.

Crown prosecutor Linda Ostry said at the heart of the case was an imbalance of power between the victims and the accused.

Birarda sat attentively, with his hands on his lap, wearing a gray suit and white shirt as the agreed statement of facts was read out in the courtroom.

It included accounts of the personal relationships he cultivated with the women — all of whom were teenagers at the time of the offenses — which followed a similar pattern of beginning with persistent phone calls and electronic communication that at first were about soccer, but gradually turned sexual in nature.

The identity of the victims is protected by a publication ban. CBC has learned that all are former soccer players.

Birarda almost certainly faces jail time. Touching a young person for a sexual purpose draws a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum of 14 years behind bars.

In 2008, Birarda was quietly let go from his dual positions at Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps after players complained of inappropriate behavior. Within months he was hired as a girls club coach in the Vancouver area.

The story gained prominence in February 2019 when former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack wrote a blog post called “A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story” containing allegations against a person she called “Coach Billy” who was later identified as Birarda.

That same month, he was suspended from coaching girls at Surrey, BC, club Coastal FC.

In the subsequent months, former Whitecaps and national team players brought forward additional accusationsdemanding answers from Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps as to how Birarda was able to continue coaching girls and young women after he was fired.

Bob Birarda pictured in an interview with CBC News in 2007. Birarda has pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and one count of touching a young person for a sexual purpose. (CBC News)

The women’s efforts were amplified by Vancouver Whitecaps supporter groups, who staged mass walkouts during Whitecaps home games in 2019.

In May 2019, the Whitecaps issued an apology to the former players. It was followed by a release of a report Commissioned by the Whitecaps that said the club couldn’t have prevented Birarda from coaching because it had no jurisdiction over coaching licenses.

December 2020 Birarda was charged with six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring after women came forward to the police. The charges were later revised to 10 counts, including invitation to sexual touching and communicating via a computer to lure a child under the age of 18.

Canada Soccer, the national governing body for the sport, has said very little in response to criticisms that it failed to protect player safety by not suspending Birarda. It only agreed to an independent review of its actions during his employment after the Olympic champion Canadian women’s team demanded it as a condition of playing exhibition matches last fall.

meanwhile, Major League Soccer is investigating the Whitecaps’ handling of both Birarda and another former coach of the defunct Whitecaps women’s team, Hubert Busby, Jr.

Busby was quietly let go from the Whitecaps in 2011 after players brought complaints to club executives. Players were told not to speak publicly about his dismissal.

Former Whitecaps player Malloree Enoch went public last fall with allegations that Busby sexually coerced and assaulted her while he was recruiting her to the Whitecaps in 2010 and 2011. Busby has denied the allegations.

In November, the Vancouver Whitecaps placed four unnamed members of its executive team on administrative leave.

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